For this article, I am going to take a look at some of the methods we would typically recommend institutions use to improve their planned class size accuracy. If you are unsure over the importance of planned class sizes, then I recommend you also take a look at the article posted last month “Impact of Inaccurate Planned Class Sizes on the Timetable, Students, Staff and the Institution“.
Are your planned class sizes accurate?
One of the first steps is to determine whether your planned class sizes are accurate. In order to do this we recommend two approaches
1) Compare the activity planned class sizes with the activity real class sizes
For a lot of institutions the majority of timetabled teaching activities now also include individual student data, so as to create individual student timetables. This information is however not typically available during the timetable planning stages, but becomes populated once students have enrolled and made their student module choices. This is usually displayed within a timetable activity as the “real” class size.
We recommend that these “real” class sizes are compared against the “planned” class sizes, with all those activities with significant differences highlighted.
2) Compare the planned class sizes with the survey class sizes.
Unfortunately the “real” class sizes do not always represent the……..real class sizes, with timetable activities being delivered differently to that timetabled. To give one example of this; a activity with 20 students booked into 1 space, might in fact only be taught to a subsection of these students each week (i.e. 10 one week, 10 the next week) or even be used for 1-1 tutorials for these 20 students! There are also likely to be a significant number of timetabled activities that do not have “real” class sizes and therefore for these, this represents a useful method for checking whether these are accurate.
We therefore recommend that these “real” class sizes are also compared against the surveyed class sizes, with all those activities with significant differences highlighted. (Surveyed class sizes can be gather via carrying out a teaching space utilisation survey)
Another reasons for doing this, is that this comparison can also be used to highlight any attendance issues. If the real class size is proven to be correct, yet the surveyed class size is smaller – then that proportion of students have failed to attend.
Why are these planned class sizes inaccurate?
There can be lots of reasons for planned class sizes being inaccurate, therefore we always highly recommend that institutions investigate why these are by following similar steps to that shown below:
Discuss issues with senior school/college/department, estates and timetabling staff.
Communication, or the lack of, can often be a major factor causing inaccurate class sizes and can again also be a major factor in stopping this problem from being solved. We therefore always recommend that this issue is discussed with senior school/college/department, estates and timetabling staff first, with the issues inaccurate planned class sizes causes discussed in detail. A group meeting is typically productive.
This step is usually very helpful in ensuring all parties understand the issue and why it needs to be solved, promoting engagement with the next step.
Request feedback on those planned class sizes with significantly different “real” and surveyed class sizes.
For this step, we recommend that all those timetabled activities with planned class sizes that are significantly different to the “real” and surveyed class sizes are sent to the schools/colleges/departments that are responsible for them, with feedback requested for each. We highly recommend this is done via a spreadsheet or something similar, with feedback requested in the same document per activity.
We also highly recommend that this is done via senior staff (both for sending this request and receiving/managing this request) to help ensure that staff engage with this process and provide accurate information. Collecting accurate information is critical to solving this issue.
Now, to solve the issues!
Analyse and report on this information to senior school/college/department, estates and timetabling staff.
Once you have received feedback from each school, the next step is to analyse this information and report the findings to those senior staff engaged with throughout this process. Again it is typically more productive to do this in a group setting, so thoughts and ideas can be discussed by all those effected.
The aim of this is to highlight what the issues are and any trends you have found, as well as to open the door to the next step…..
Consult with the school/college/department staff who provided the feedback, addressing the issues.
The potential reasons you will have gathered are likely to be varied, if not very varied! They are likely to consist of those that are easy to solve and those that aren’t, plus all those in between. Therefore a sensible next step is to discuss this feedback with those responsible for providing this information in the first place, with the aim of pinpointing the reasons for these inaccurate planned class sizes.
It is key to not see each feedback response provided as an individual issue, but rather see why these have occurred in the first place; has there been a communication breakdown and if so, why and how can this be resolved in the future? Is this a process issue, if so which process and why? etc. Discussing this with the staff who are responsible for managing the timetable data for each school, will help you to uncover the answers to these questions together and build a plan for the resolving them.
Make the changes!
By now you will hopefully have pinpointed the issues causing inaccurate planned class sizes and therefore the next step is to solve them. As noted in the previous section, there are likely to be some quick wins but also some more complicated issues that need to be resolved.
Without knowing what these are, I am unable suggest a suitable approach for solving each – however I do highly recommend that continued engagement and reporting on this issue is key. This will help to ensure each solution is thoroughly thought through and improves the processes for the University as a whole rather than just one element.
If you at the start, middle or end of the process and are looking for some advice then please feel free to contact us (my personal email address is below), we are happy to offer our advise for free. We are also able to offer out expertise on a consultancy basis, if you are looking to discover and solve issues such as this and improve both your timetable and how space is utilised on your estate. Take a look at our website for more information or please feel free to contact me, it would be great to hear from you.